MIDDLETOWN — Purchasing a house during the last few years hasn’t been easy, says real estate agent and Middletown resident Sacha Armstrong-Crocket. And that’s especially true, she said, for people of color.
“Rents are increasing and the qualifications are increasing, but the wages aren’t going up for Black and brown folks,” according to Armstrong-Crocket. “We’re not acknowledging that people are coming into Connecticut and treating us like the dollar store and buying up the houses. You can’t compete with that if you’re a [Federal Housing Administration] buyer, which is a good portion of first-time Black and brown buyers.”
Armstrong-Crocket’s business, the Connecticut Home Collective, is hoping to change that.
Using a $75,000 grant from the city’s coronavirus relief funds, she plans to host 12 sessions for Middletown residents, prioritizing people of color who are low to middle-income, and three sessions for landlords, real estate agents, and people who work for the city or other relevant organizations. Armstrong-Crocket aims to give people of color the opportunity to discuss their housing experiences in the context of larger racial discrimination and potential policy changes.
Armstrong-Crocket told CT Examiner that the goal of the sessions was to bring together people from different perspectives and build a common solution.
“It’s about pushing forward a greater human capacity around the housing conversation that is restorative, that we look at from the tenant side, from the landlord side, from planning and zoning,” she said. “We look at all these different angles on how we can work harder together to come to a shared housing vision that I don’t feel like we have right now.”
‘You deserve this’
Armstrong-Crocket, whose own experience with predatory lending led her to become a real estate agent, said the first thing she asks people to do is tell their “home story” — what they remember about their housing situation growing up.
“Maybe if you are somebody who grew up in an all White neighborhood, you might talk about the parks that you went to and the sidewalks,” she said. “And that might be very different from somebody who grew up on the North End and may [have] had to step over needles.”
She said many millennials who grew up during the financial crisis of 2008 have memories of losing their homes to foreclosure. Others were evicted as children, or left their homes after receiving a notice to quit. Armstrong-Crocket said this can dissuade people from buying houses later in life.
“If it doesn’t live in you and you don’t have any experience in it, it feels so unattainable. It just doesn’t feel real,” she said. “A lot of my job — and I didn’t know this when I got into it — was going to be late night calls and telling people, ‘You’re worthy of this. You deserve this. Your family deserves this.’”
A second aspect of the sessions will involve learning about the history of housing discrimination in the U.S., including the refusal of the Federal Housing Administration to insure mortgages in primarily Black neighborhoods — known as redlining — predatory lending and the evolution of fair housing laws.
She also said she wanted to inform tenants about their rights and places to go in an emergency, while offering a safe space to discuss housing insecurity and poor housing quality.
For landlords, she said, she wants to educate them about Section 8 vouchers and the importance of holding security deposits in an interest-bearing account. Armstrong-Crocket pointed to practices that some landlords engage in silently, such as pricing apartments just above the Section 8 housing voucher cap. She suggested this can preclude families from gaining access to better communities and schools.
Armstrong-Crocket said she’s noticed fewer of her clients being people of color since the housing market became more competitive amid the pandemic.
“I’m seeing that drop-off. I’m seeing the emotional labor of rejection after rejection,” she said. “You’re going to end up in a multiple-offer situation, and you’re going to have to go against people who are going to be putting down significant deposits or have housing experience.”
It’s particularly disheartening, she said, since homeownership can make a big difference for families of color.
“What I am seeing with specifically my Black clients, how this change is multigenerational — that now my mother’s living with me, or now my mother’s considering buying a condo … or, ‘This has allowed me to have a garden. I’m eating off the land now.’”
‘We can be innovative when we want to be’
Data from the National Association of Realtors showed that 72 percent of White Americans owned a home in 2021, compared to 44 percent of Black Americans. That gap is slightly wider in Connecticut, with three-quarters of White residents owning their own home compared to 42 percent of Black residents.
In Middletown, where homeownership is lower overall, about 60 percent of White residents in the city own their home, compared to one in three Black residents, according to data from 2019.
Part of Armstrong-Crocket’s sessions will involve brainstorming solutions to close that gap, adding that Middletown could do more to help people achieve homeownership.
“We have Liberty Bank here. There are special loans that can be targeted toward communities of color. We can do that,” she said. “We can build tiny home communities that are affordable, that allow communities of color to be able to purchase in Middletown.”
She also suggested local down payment assistance programs and investing in Black-led organizations to lead conversations in the community. She said people of color should be explicitly mentioned in the city’s affordable housing plan.
“Older residents and people of color are our highest portion of renters. So if you’re talking about affordable housing, you’re talking about us and you need to name us,” she said.
Armstrong-Crocket said she’d like to see the same level of investment in Black communities that the state put into its Crumbling Foundations program, which gave homeowners in primarily northern Tolland and Hartford counties financial assistance for foundations that were breaking down due to pyrrhotite, which causes concrete to deteriorate.
“We can be innovative when we want to be. And the homeownership for Black people in Connecticut has been built on a crumbling foundation for generations. And there has not been a swift move to correct that,” she said.
Armstrong-Crocket said the $75,000 grant will go toward paying for food, books, journals, renting spaces for the sessions and paying facilitators. She anticipates the sessions will take place once a month.